ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.


Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.

A few other summer Shakespeares in and around town:

Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The granddaddy of ’em all has grown to be one of the biggest theater companies in the nation, selling hundreds of thousands of tickets annually to its shows in Ashland. The current season of eleven productions includes four by Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor) plus a stage adaptation of the movie Shakespeare in Love.

Original Practice Shakespeare. Elizabethan improv in the parks, with nine plays and, because of the improv, never a repeat performance. Check the schedule for the what, when, and where.

Troilus and Cressida. Portland’s oldest Shakespeare-in-the-parks company, Portland Actors Ensemble, takes on one of the Bard’s toughest plays, with Jacob Camp and Alexandria Casteele in the title roles. Fittingly, it’s played out in tombstone territory, in Lone Fir Cemetery.



THE ART OF INCLUSION. That’s the headline on a story ArtsWatch has just published, with the subhead ArtsWatch apologizes for concert review’s errors of fact and judgment. It’s a response from the editors to our review of a June 17 concert by Resonance Ensemble, a piece that sparked outrage among many of our readers, primarily for its dismissive attitude toward a piece by the actor Vin Shambry. We believe our readers and the artists involved have good cause to be upset. We were wrong, and it’s important to acknowledge that. We lay out how it happened, and what steps we are taking in response. We hope the controversy prompts a healthy conversation on what art is, and how it fits with the broader culture.





Chamber Music Northwest

In the festival’s fourth week, old masters return. The Brentano Quartet, augmented by other veteran CMNW musicians, play Mozart and Haydn (a chamber arrangement of his famous “Surprise” symphony) Tuesday at Portland State University. The excellent young Calidore Quartet and other rising musicians, including former Portland youth star Rebecca Anderson and young Australian pianist Andrea Lam, play Janacek, Mendelssohn and Beethoven Wednesday at Alberta Rose Theatre. Still another rising young foursome, the Dover Quartet, plays an all-Schumann show Thursday at Reed College. The augmented Brentanos return with bonus violist Hsin-Yung Huang to play some wonderful quintet classics (not heard often enough because there’s a lot more touring string quartet ensembles than permanent quintets, and those quartets play, well, quartets) by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms at Reed College Saturday and Portland State Sunday.


The Brentano Quartet (Misha Amory/ viola, Serena Canin/violin, Nina Lee/cello, Mark Steinberg/violin) performs Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Juergen Frank/2016

Then it’s back to the welcome geyser of new music that has erupted at the festival this summer. Friday’s noon show features music by acclaimed award winners Joan Tower, Julia Wolfe, and Valerie Coleman, while Monday’s Reed concert includes a pair of young CMNW Protege composers who’ve impressed us at past festivals, Chris Rogerson and Daniel Schlosberg (inspired by the newly returned Twin Peaks) plus delights by Bach and Poulenc. And don’t forget next Tuesday’s free afternoon performance by the festival’s new ensemble in residence, the fabulous Imani Winds, at Portland Art Museum. There’s really something special going on at CMNW this summer, so despite the tempting glorious weather, do try to catch some of these indoor thrills.

Tuesday-Monday, Reed College, Portland State University, and elsewhere.



Pianist Darrell Grant.

Jazz in the Garden

This new summer series with PDX Jazz makes an attractive matchup of a pair of essential Portland institutions. The July 18 show features one of Oregon’s most valuable musicians, pianist/composer/PSU professor Darrell Grant’s All for Naught quartet and guests. Beautiful jazz in a beautiful place — one of the summer’s top combinations. Tuesday, Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 N.W. Everett Street.


Pura Vida Orquesta

Paquito Martinez’s bandmates hail from  Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, and Portland, and their sound, while rooted in salsa, covers a similarly wide spectrum of influences — cumbia, cha cha cha, timba, Latin jazz, merengue, bachata, and Latin funk. The latest in Portland5’s free summer Music on Main series makes a picante musical after-work break.

Wednesday, Broadway and Main Street.


Così fan tutte

Sung in Italian with English titles, Mozart’s comic sex opera (roughly, “They’re all like that”) uses women disguised as men to score some sly points against patriarchy amid the laughs and irresistible tunes. Portland Opera‘s current production, which opened last week, is enhanced with Paul Clay’s multimedia projections using 3-D, renderings, and photography. Stay tuned for ArtsWatch’s review. July 20, 22, 26 & 29, Newmark Theatre.


Portland Opera’s “Così fan tutte.” Photo © Cory Weaver/Portland Opera


Good News!

Any glimpse at the national headlines since last November is so discouraging that we could all use a little good news right about now. And The Shedd is providing some. B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown & Ray Henderson’s fizzy musical, which runs July 21-30, was one of the Jazz Age’s biggest Broadway smashes, later made into a couple of films, and revived (and revised) a couple times, most successfully in this 1993 revival that sprinkled a few more appropriate Henderson hits from other shows of the era.

Set in the Roaring ’20s, the lightweight plot includes a romance between a football coach and an astronomy prof, another between a football star and a nerdy student, sorority girls and varsity dances and jazzy dance numbers and a few standout songs whose upbeat titles (“The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Lucky in Love,” “Just Imagine,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Life is a Bowl of Cherries”) give a sense of the musical’s upbeat, pre-Depression sensibility. Ron Daum directs the Shedd’s production, with music directed by Robert Ashens, choreography by Caitlin Christopher, and a cast of veteran Shedd players. Friday-Sunday, The Shedd, Eugene.


Extradition Series Summer Concert

The Creative Music Guild’s newest series has been one of the year’s most impressive additions to Portland’s music scene, featuring intimate, spacious 21st- and 20th-century experimental music performed by top regional musicians from the city’s jazz and other improvisatory and contemporary classical music scenes. The summer concert features music by Dutch composer Samuel Vriezen (which allows musicians to pick the musical pieces they use); Italian 20th century modernist composer Giacinto Scelsi; Nomi Epstein’s recent Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap (whose title tells the musicians what to do); spacey solo works by Greek composer Anastassis Philippakopoulos; and new music for oboes and electronics by Taylor Brook and Dana Reason. Saturday, Leaven Community Center, 5431 NE 20th Ave @ Killingsworth.


Eugene Symphony

Since there’s no outdoor Oregon Symphony concert this September, it’s another reason to head south for another fine Oregon orchestra’s annual free alfresco shows, which feature classical bon bons by Tchaikovsky, Copland, Bernstein, John Williams, Sousa, Brahms and more. Tickets for Saturday’s Cuthbert Amphitheater show are already gone, but check the Hult Center ticket office to see if any have been returned, or just head over to the performances at Cottage Grove‘s Bohemia Park on the 24th or Roseburg’s Stewart Park on the 25th; no tickets required.





A renaissance at the winery. Some people find their comfort zone in the whole darned Renaissance – especially when the fabulous Oregon Renaissance Band is on hand. On Saturday they’ll be at Villa Catalana Cellars, between Oregon City and Canby, along with theater director Stepan Simec & company doing a little Shakespeare and commedia dell’arte, plus country dancing (you can learn how), and of course, food and drink. Period costumes, as they say, are encouraged.

Free opera concert for unity. An excellent chance to hear some very good singers in a free concert in response to the fatal stabbings in a racially motivated attack on a MAX light-rail line on May 26. Bass/baritone Daniel Mobbs, soprano Mary Dunleavy, and Portland Opera resident artists Aaron Short, Antonia Tamer, Kate Farrar, and Ryan Thom will perform, with Nicholas Fox accompanying on piano along with other opera msicians. Donations are welcome and will go to the families of the young women who were verbally assaulted on the train, an act that led to the killings. 7 p.m. Monday, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 11560 S.E. Market St., Portland.

Hands Up! 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments. The August Wilson Red Door Project’s critically lauded program of short plays about race and diversity has two shows this weekend, Saturday and Sunday at Wieden + Kennedy. Tickets are free (and donations accepted) but go fast: sign up here.

Cabaret White. Darcy White’s cabaret series at Wilf’s continues tonight – Tuesday, July 18 – with guest host Debby Hunter and singers John Ellingson, Ashlee Walbauer, and Leah Yorkston. Wilf’s Restaurant and Bar, at the Amtrak station.



ArtsWatch links


Pablo Picasso, “Bacchanalia”, 1959, reduction linocut/Courtesy Augen Gallery

Prints on demand: Want to see my etchings? With exhibits at the Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery, Portland’s enjoying an unofficial summer celebration of the print, from Whistler and his circle to Northwest and American masters to Picasso and Miro. It’s all, well, imprinted on our writer Laurel Reed Pavic, who gives you the lowdown.

From trifles to triumphs. Terry Ross takes in a pair of Chamber Music Northwest concerts and discovers much to like and some not.

Bach to the future. Bruce Browne is on the scene as the Oregon Bach Festival returns to its roots – the acoustically superb “grande dame” that is Beall Hall on the University of Oregon campus – for the epic St. Matthew Passion.


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